Butterflies are beautiful, majestic creatures that evolve from a dull black caterpillar into a winged insect with a kaleidoscope of color on their paper-thin wings. And largely thanks to this amazing and inspiring process of metamorphosis, it is definitely not a surprise that these creatures have been centerpieces of symbolism all around the world.
Over time different cultures, religions, and individuals have inferred different meanings from this brightly colored member of the moth family, making the butterfly a symbol for many admiring qualities that influence. Some prominent symbolism associated with butterflies and their metamorphosis include:
- Resilience and Endurance
Cultural Symbolism of Butterflies
Butterflies have a rich history as they have been found in fossils aged hundreds of million years, and they are also featured in texts and symbols of ancient civilizations across the globe.
The mysterious and beautiful butterfly has also made its mark in folklore and mythology, and it has touched different empires by providing them with insights and inspiration that spread through art and literature. Over time, the butterfly as a symbol became incorporated in well-known cultures. Now, let us take a look at them one by one.
In ancient Greek, the butterfly, or “psyche” as it was known during those times, translates into “soul,” and the word was also the name of the goddess of the soul in Greek mythology. Psyche was born with beauty to rival that of the butterfly, and she is even portrayed in artifacts with butterfly wings.
The myths use butterflies to symbolize the souls of the dead and the trials of the once mortal goddess, which eventually led her to become an immortal, thereby completing her transformation.
Romans believed the butterfly was a symbol of the soul similar to the Greeks, and it was featured in statues to represent the soul leaving the body of the dead. The butterfly symbol was also used for tombstones in the Roman civilization to signify the departure and liberation of the soul.
Ancient Egyptians also attributed meaning to butterfly symbols which can be found on ancient temple walls and tombs. The tiger butterfly was especially revered in ancient Egypt as they were portrayed as disproportionately larger than other elements in paintings.
Size reflects the importance of a symbol, and the large painted butterflies signify the immortality of the soul and the fruits of the afterlife.
Native American Civilizations
Native American civilizations consider butterflies as a symbol of transformation, rebirth, and hope, with different tribes associating different characteristics to the butterfly and their respective colors.
The Blackfeet tribe believes butterflies are a conduit for peaceful dreams, and individuals use visual representations of butterflies to have a restful sleep.
Pueblo tribes considered the butterfly as a symbol of joy as they have become part of the legend of the creator who realized the reality of humans who were destined to grow old and feeble.
The creator wanted the children to enjoy their time on the Earth, so he gathered colors from nature and presented them to humans in the form of butterflies to bring joy and beauty to their lives.
The Aztecs believed the butterfly was a symbolic representation of the soul of the dead similar to other civilizations, but they also believed them to be symbols of resurrection and transformation. Butterflies were thought to be the actual souls of deceased ancestors at peace who come to visit their living relatives.
The respect for butterflies also seeped into their traditions as it was considered rude to smell a bouquet of flowers from above to prevent people from disturbing butterflies who carried the souls of the departed as flowers were their prime visiting spot.
Aztecs also believed that the butterflies were guardian spirits who escorted the souls of women who died during birth or warriors who were sacrificed or died in battle to their final resting place (much like valkyries ecorting Viking warriors’ souls to Valhalla).
The butterfly was also associated with divinity as it was the symbol of the warrior goddess Itzapapalotl and she is associated with the black butterfly. According to myth, the goddess transforms herself into a butterfly to consume souls during solar eclipses.
Native American traditions are still followed to this day as every year, monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico around the Day of the Dead. The lore associates the butterflies with the returning souls of deceased ancestors and allows families to honor the souls and memory of their loved ones.
Religious Meaning and Symbolism of Butterflies
With the close association of butterflies with our souls in many cultures, the symbolism of butterflies is also indirectly referenced in religions and other systems of faith.
While butterflies are not directly referenced in Buddhist scripture, the noble truths taught by Buddha can be explained through the metamorphosis of butterflies. Achieving enlightenment is not an easy process as it involves suffering and persevering before the truth can be revealed.
The butterfly is the perfect metaphor as its evolution from a caterpillar to a colorful winged insect requires time and patience when in the chrysalis stage.
Even when the butterfly is emerging from its cocoon, it must struggle to break the shell and emerge, but there is a purpose behind the suffering, as Buddhism teaches us, after the overwhelming ordeal of escaping its shell, the caterpillar has completed its transformation into a butterfly.
The Bible does not include mentions of butterflies, but they are living embodiments of endurance, transformation, and resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is comparable to the evolution of a butterfly as the caterpillar disappears once it forms a chrysalis, and for all intents and purposes, it is gone just as Jesus was when he was crucified on the cross and placed in a tomb.
The caterpillar is resurrected as a butterfly with its full set of colors after some time, and Jesus, too, was resurrected and emerged as the powerful savior of his people.
Rebirth is also a central concept in Christianity, and achieving that through baptisms where individuals are freed from their past selves, and they receive a spiritual rebirth and are set on a path of enlightenment.
Spiritual Meaning and Symbolism of Butterflies
The spiritual symbolism of natural elements and beings exude positive or negative auras and energies at an individual level. Butterflies are a representation of transformation, resilience, hope, and life in the universe that can inspire individuals who identify with their journey through life.
The basis of transformation is the butterfly’s life cycle, which is similar to our life progression. Born from an egg, the caterpillar prepares for its transformation by consuming sustenance before it envelops its body in a pupa where it reemerges as a vibrant butterfly.
As humans, we are born, and we consume knowledge to prepare ourselves before we make our way in the world. The struggle of the journey is evident in both scenarios, but it is the driving force behind liberation and success.
The spiritual transformation involves working on ourselves to achieve a fulfilling life, and it is only achieved once we develop resilience, overcome our insecurities, evolve, and push forward to bring out the majestic butterfly that lives inside us.
Butterflies As Spirit Animals
As spirit animals, butterflies are a symbol of positivity and personal transformation. Individuals identifying the butterfly as their spirit animal or totem can use the symbol to identify areas of growth and transformation in their lives.
This also makes it easier to take change in stride by using the power and persistence of the butterfly to overcome struggles and limitations of the body to develop mental strength that can help individuals embrace a new reality and thrive by adapting and navigating the challenges life throws at them.
Butterfly Symbolism and Meaning by Color
The symbolism and meaning associated with a butterfly change depending on the color of the creature. Here is each and every one of the interpretations and beliefs by color.
White Butterfly Meaning
The color white symbolizes purity, and white butterflies can be considered both lucky and unlucky depending on cultural elements. They are associated with dead spirits and souls and angels, especially in Chinese mythology.
Another meaning refers to spiritual transformation as it is supposed to increase spiritual awareness and help align energy and improve confidence by letting a sense of peace wash over the observer.
Yellow Butterfly Meaning
The yellow butterfly symbolizes hope, joy, and creativity, along with the promise of sunny weather and warm summers. The bright and vibrant color signifies hope as it can bring happiness and prosperity to individuals by inviting creativity and joy in their lives.
In some cultures, yellow butterflies can be considered bad omens as they can foreshadow negativity and bad luck during a journey. It is also linked to illness and death, this is an English interpretation/belief that has been passed down through generations.
Monarch Butterfly Meaning
The monarch butterfly is a highly recognizable butterfly that has orange and black wings speckled with white. The monarch butterfly symbolizes spiritual transformation and strength.
These resilient creatures can migrate to warmer climates at distances greater than 3000 miles despite their short lifespan that prevents them from returning to their home.
They display incredible strength during the journey, and they can inspire individuals to take a leap and move to greener pastures by leaving their past behind to undertake a spiritual or physical journey guided by the monarch butterfly.
These butterflies can also be a sign for individuals to stop focusing on negativity as it encourages them to live their lives with enthusiasm to become happy.
Black Butterfly Meaning
The black butterfly is widely regarded as a bad omen due to its association with death, but it is also considered a symbol for transformation, transition, and rebirth.
The sighting of a black butterfly is supposed to foreshadow bad news in terms of misfortune and death. Other symbolic interpretations include the butterflies being a sign of a brighter future as the black can be considered the darkness before the light at the end of the tunnel is visible.
This positive association affirms there will be transition and rebirth, making the black butterfly the sign of one chapter ending and a new beginning.
Blue Butterfly Meaning
The color blue brings a sense of calmness and peace which can be attributed to butterflies as well; however, blue butterflies are not common as the color blue is a rare occurrence in nature.
The blue butterfly symbolizes life, love, and luck. It is considered a good omen because the chances of seeing a butterfly such as the blue morpho, which appears blue because of the precise angle of the scales of its wings, is very slim, and that is the reason blue it is believed to bring luck. Some people believe, they are also precursors of change and love in one’s life.
Purple Butterfly Meaning
Purple is a regal color linked to individuals of importance throughout history, such as royalty, and the symbolism of the color transfers to the butterfly.
Purple butterflies symbolize the arrival of an important individual in your life while also signifying prosperity and achievement of life goals. They are believed to provide guidance so individuals can achieve their full potential, which can be through the form of divine intervention that leads to enlightenment and success.
Orange Butterfly Meaning
Orange butterflies represent positivity, excitement, and joy; they have the ability to inspire individuals to become passionate and more aware of their capabilities and surroundings so they can have a newfound sense of focus in their life.
There is also a negative connotation attached to orange butterflies as they are linked with aggression and anger as the color is a symbol of fire, and it can have a profound effect on emotions, but it can also serve as a warning to keep emotions under check.
Brown Butterfly Meaning
The appearance of a brown butterfly serves as a foreshadowing of important news, and it can also be an indicator of change. The change can materialize in the form of friendships, romantic relationships, or even personal development.
Brown butterflies can help set individuals on the path to achieve clarity by identifying their priorities. Lastly, in some cultures, it is also believed that the brown butterflies represent life as they carry the souls of their departed relatives.
Black and Yellow Butterfly Meaning
The black and yellow butterfly is a sign of transformation and hope. It is an indication of death and rebirth with elements of positivity and regrowth.
The butterfly is an indication that there are better things on the horizon once individuals embrace the process of letting go, which can help them achieve clarity. However, in some cultures, such as Chinese and American cultures, the black and yellow butterfly is considered a symbol of death and misfortune.
This wraps up our extensive article on butterfly symbolism and meanings associated with butterflies in cultures and religions throughout history. If you liked reading it, you should check out our post on ladybug symbolism here.
On the other hand, if you would like to read more about other spiritual symbols, please click here. You can also find our detailed articles on ancient symbols here in this exclusive section dedicated to them. Thanks for reading with us!